Aimee Sadler Dog Trainer Dogs Playing for Life Founder

Aimee Sadler is the Founder and CEO of Dogs Playing for Life™, an enrichment program for shelter dogs featuring playgroups. Ms. Sadler is an internationally recognized trainer specializing in behavioral problems. Her techniques have been derived from over thirty years of professional work with multiple species, from dogs to cats, to exotics and marine mammals.


Aimee’s childhood passion for animals turned into a career in 1987 at the onset of her apprenticeship to Magic Mountain’s dolphin and sea lion show in southern California. From there Aimee was offered a position of leadership at the park’s wild animal show where she performed on stage with exotic animals in addition to touring with the creatures to better educate children. From her innate desire to help animals she then took a position with the American Humane Association, responsible for the monitoring of “animal actors”. This exposure resulted in her transition as the compound manager of Birds and Animals Unlimited, one of Hollywood’s top animal training facilities. Aimee then founded the animal rentals division of Fourth Cub Productions, Inc., where she supplied well-trained animals for numerous television commercials and music videos.


Over the years while Aimee developed her private dog training business, she maintained strong affiliations with rescue organizations. Since 1998, Aimee’s main interest has been working with shelter dogs after her private client sent her to the Southampton Animal Shelter to spend her session time working with their dogs instead of her own. Ever since, Aimee’s vision has been to create enrichment and training programs that would prove to be invaluable to the well-being of dogs in shelters everywhere.


Dogs Playing for Life™ seminars and trainings have been provided to nearly 300 organizations internationally. Aimee presents consistently at animal welfare and professional dog training conferences, such as HSUS’ Animal Expo, Best Friend’s Annual Conference, Masters in Behavior Conference, the No Kill Conference, and the International Association of Canine Professionals Conference.


In recognition of her work, Aimee has been honored with the Henry Bergh Leadership Award in 2011 and the Maddie’s Fund Hero Award in 2018 in addition to being inducted into the Members Hall of Fame for the International Association of Canine Professionals. From the popularity of the program and the measured results in life-saving, Dogs Playing for Life™ has been featured in the Television Series, ‘Shelter Me – New Beginnings’ airing on PBS and Netflix as well as being the inaugural recipient of the Petco Foundation ‘Love in Action Award’. In 2017 DPFL opened its first Canine Center in Florida to serve as an advanced training and behavior center for unowned dogs needing some extra help prior to placement, and for the purpose of mentoring and cultivating shelter canine trainers.


Aimee currently resides in Longmont, CO, with her husband and their very full family of furry and non-furry beings.

Emily Grossheider Dogs Playing for Life

Emily was raised by a lab mix & two cats in Northern California. After graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Emily accepted a position at Dog Adoption and Welfare Group where she increased adoptions by more than 100%. 


Following her tenure at DAWG, Emily became the Director of the Santa Ynez Humane Society. In her ongoing efforts to improve the training of her staff and ultimately enrich the lives of the animals in her charge, Emily met the Dogs Playing for Life team, which she enthusiastically joined as Director of Development in 2015. Since then, Emily has earned accreditation as a Certified Animal Welfare Administrator (CAWA), been promoted to Chief Innovation Officer at DPFL, and has earned a Masters Degree in Public Administration, with an emphasis on nonprofit management. 


Emily lives in Santa Barbara, California with her ornery rescue mutt Blackjack. In her free time, she can be found on the beach or teaching her 4 nieces and nephew how to beg their mothers for a rescue puppy.

Mike Kaviani Dogs Playing for Life

Mike Kaviani began working with shelter animals at the Irvine Animal Care Center in California when he was 18. His “3rd Chance for Pets Program” received national recognition when IACC was given the 2007 Shelter of the Year award primarily due to this program.


In 2010, Mike became the Director of Training and Behavior at the Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation. At SASF, he worked under the guidance of Aimee Sadler, and together their implementation of enrichment and behavior programs with a foundation of daily playgroups resulted in the shelter consistently maintaining top marks in save rate, length of stay, and return rates. These efforts would ultimately become the core programs for the national non-profit organization, Dogs Playing for Life.


In the Spring of 2012, Mike brought these DPFL programs to Austin, Texas where he joined forces with Dr. Ellen Jefferson and became the Dog Behavior Program Manager for Austin Pets Alive! APA! had already achieved a 90% Save Rate for the entire city of Austin, and Mike’s focus was to save the last 10%, which primarily comprises large dogs with behavior issues. The city’s current canine save rate now holds steady at 98-99%. As Dog Behavior Manager, he conducted daily dog playgroups, provided training and behavior modification, taught weekly volunteer training classes, trained shelter interns, and oversaw the Canine Good Citizen and Adoption Follow-Up Training Programs.


In 2016, Mike took on the role of Director of Lifesaving Operations with Austin Pets Alive! As Director of Lifesaving Operations at APA!, Mike provided immediate and ongoing support, leadership, and problem-solving for the shelter’s staff and volunteers in all of APA’s animal care programs. In addition to these on-site responsibilities, Mike was tasked with innovating new solutions in areas such as length of stay, animal care and enrichment, dog behavior and training solutions for the last 5%, volunteer engagement, and retention, and creating national lifesaving models and best practices. 


Through the Maddie’s Lifesaving Academy, Mike was also the Maddie’s Director of Canine Lifesaving where he trained and consulted with shelter professionals from around the country to increase national lifesaving efforts. While in Austin, Mike also served on Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission. 


In the Summer of 2018, Mike accepted the position of Director of OC Animal Care in Orange County, California. OCAC is the largest animal shelter in Orange County, taking in approximately 18,000 animals per year. During Mike’s time in Orange County, he led the shelter to an over 10% increase in total save rate in just one year. 


Lastly, at the start of 2020, in an effort to make a more immediate and widespread impact on the lives of shelter dogs, Mike made the decision to rejoin Aimee Sadler and Dogs Playing for Life and became the Chief Program Officer. As CPO, Mike leads all core programming and works with shelters across the country to increase the quality of life and lifesaving efforts for shelter dogs.

Lexie Malone Canine Center FloridaLexie began working for Dogs Playing for Life in August of 2017. Previously in private training, Lexie became fascinated with Dog’s Playing for Life’s efficient use of playgroups in shelters after meeting Aimee Sadler at a Lucas Agnew workshop in Templeton, California, and applied to get on board.


Since then, Lexie has expanded her opportunity with Dogs Playing for Life by recently becoming the Director of the Canine Center Florida.


Lexie’s passion for advanced behavior continues to grow and she is excited to join the team as a Presenter as well as a Director. Lexie currently resides in Florida with her three dogs, Kaia, Molly, and Jéan Flouff.

Presenters and Leads

Kodi Sadler Lead Trainer Presenter DPFL

Kodi Sadler is proud to be one of Dogs Playing for Life’s Lead Instructors providing playgroup training to shelters internationally. His love of all dogs and his comfort working with large groups has been a prevalent part of his life since before he can remember. As Aimee’s oldest son, his earliest memories include waddling around amidst the ever-changing large pack of owned and rescued dogs that cohabitated with the Sadlers while in training.


Kodi’s formal career in animal welfare began at the age of 17 when he started volunteering at the Longmont Humane Society. At age 18 he was invited to join the DPFL Team as an Instructor’s Assistant and fell in love with the work, inspiring him to complete his high school through a work-study. While Kodi now travels full time teaching for DPFL, he considers himself to be a student of animal welfare. With the road as his campus and the dogs as his teachers, Kodi intends to continue learning as much as he can about the work that will be a part of his life forever. Kodi is passionate about playgroups and the positive impact they have on animals and people.


Kodi currently lives in Longmont, CO with Sawchi, whom he adopted from LHS 10 years ago. Sawchi isn’t pleased with Kodi’s travel schedule and evidently is not as approving of Kodi’s career choice as he welcomes Kodi home with furious and jealous sniffing and snorting every time.

Michelle Short Lead Trainer

Michelle began working at Longmont Humane Society in Colorado as an Animal Care Team member in November 2009. She soon expanded to work at the Adoption Desk in the Client Care Team, as well. In 2010, Michelle became interested in learning more about dog training and behavior modification so she began volunteering her time with the Training and Behavior Department to gain experience and knowledge. 


Michelle became a Training Specialist in February, 2011, and has continued expanding her knowledge of training tools, techniques, and methods so that she could humanely and effectively utilize them all in her work to rehabilitate LHS shelter dogs. 


Through her experience with playgroups at LHS, Michelle has developed an interest in dog socialization. Michelle was promoted to Training Team Supervisor in 2017 in recognition of her skills and hard work for LHS. Michelle joined the DPFL team in September of 2017 as an Instructor and a Lead Trainer at DPFL’s Canine Center Florida. Michelle currently lives in New Castle, Colorado with her two rescue dogs, Niko and Cara.

Ally Tio Lead Trainer Dogs Playing for Life

Ally Tio was born and raised in Wisconsin, surrounded by a variety of pets and livestock since before she can remember. She began volunteering at shelters in Milwaukee and was instantly aware of the impact needing to be made for these dogs. 


She then moved to Austin, TX, and began volunteering at Austin Pets Alive! before quickly accepting a position there. Austin Pets Alive! opened up a whole new world of behavior modification and enrichment that intrigued Ally. 


After a year, Ally accepted the Playgroup Coordinator position and worked diligently to expand the program. Her natural comfort around large groups of dogs allowed her to progress the population at APA! quickly. After traveling to Dogs Playing for Life’s Canine Center Florida and working as a handler for a few days, Ally was inspired to continue her training with DPFL. 


Now, a lead trainer at CCF, Ally is excited to continue to learn and share her knowledge with others! She is inspired by the growth her own dog has overcome behaviorally and hopes to be a voice for those dogs in need.

Lanesha Jones Lead Trainer DPFL

Originally from Ohio, Lanesha has always had an interest in animals from a young age. When she was seventeen, she moved to Florida with her family and started volunteering in the kennels at SPCA Florida and got to know the staff and fell in love with working with the dogs. Shortly after graduation, she got a job at SPCA Florida and was there for two years when she became interested in the behavioral side of things.


During her two years at the SPCA, she got to know Connie Johnson who was in charge of the behavior team and also a Board member for Dogs Playing For Life. Connie offered Lanesha a chance to further her career in Animal Welfare and she jumped at the opportunity to join the Dogs Playing For Life team.


Now, Lanesha is a lead trainer at DPFL’s Canine Center Florida, where she works with shelter dogs to give the dogs what they need to help them be successful on their journey.


Willan Sadler Trainer DPFL

Willan Sadler has been a member of the Dogs Playing For Life team for roughly 4 years now. Willan works as an instructor for playgroup seminars all over the U.S. and as a handler at Canine Center Florida.


One of the things that Willan finds most exciting about working with DPFL is the idea of helping shelters get to Every Dog Every Day – DPFL’s guiding principle of each shelter dog getting time out of their kennels each day. As a team, we truly strive to serve as many animals as we possibly can, either through Canine Center Florida or through the 300+ shelters we’ve had the opportunity to work with on implementing our playgroup program.


Willan has had the pleasure of living with dogs all of his life and is grateful for the amazing opportunity to now work with and serve shelter dogs through our programs. He plans to continue to develop his skills as a teacher, student, trainer, handler, and teammate all while getting to do the best job in the world.

Zion and Joan Kennedy Canine Center FloridaBorn and raised in rural Virginia, Joan grew up with a “let dogs be dogs” philosophy. When she came to own dogs as an adult, this philosophy evolved to include “and teach them how to cohabitate with people.” Her first dog was challenging behaviorally due to multiple negative encounters with unfriendly dogs. Her experiences in reshaping her dog’s behavior gave her the heart to follow her childhood dream to train dogs (and their people!)


She started her professional training career almost 7 years ago with the same company that helped her show her dog that the world isn’t a scary place. She also became heavily involved in the animal welfare community, specializing in fostering dogs with behavior challenges. This journey led Joan to attend a Dogs Playing for Life seminar where she first learned of our mission, and a new passion ignited. She is now a trainer at the Canine Center Florida where her experience, skills, and passion help dogs in need of additional support.

Cathy Hyland with her two dogs

From the time she was young, Cathy always enjoyed playing with dogs. The large crazy ones were always her favorites. She would work with family and friend’s dogs but couldn’t go into the shelters because she found them too depressing.


In 2017, she decided that she needed to “toughen up” and help the dogs in the shelter that really needed it. She walked into Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter and was struck by how happy and well cared for the dogs were. She began volunteering there and would focus on the high-energy dogs that really needed an outlet. As a runner, she would spend afternoons running dogs all over the city.


Right at that time, CCAS was taking baby steps into running Dogs Playing For Life playgroups and Cathy joined and instantly saw what a game-changer playgroups were for the shelter dogs. A year later, DPFL came to CCAS and put on the Dogs Playing For Life seminar and from that point on playgroups really took off at CCAS with the dogs reaping the rewards.


Shortly after the seminar, she was made a playgroup leader. Every New Year’s Eve, Cathy facilitates a New Year’s Glowing Eve playgroup, which both dogs and humans love! In 2019, Cathy decided it was time for a career change. She wanted to give back and help as many misunderstood dogs as possible, and working for Dogs Playing For Life was the obvious choice.


She loves working with the dogs and the knowledgeable staff at the Canine Center Florida, where she works as a handler. She especially enjoys taking her lunch break and hanging out with one lucky dog in the fenced 13-acre free roam yard where they go jogging, play fetch, or simply enjoy the sun.


Cathy resides in North Olmsted, Ohio, with her two shepherd mixes, Rocky and Jet. Jet is a playgroup rockstar and is a helper dog in playgroups (she goes with Cathy on her days off where she continues to run playgroups twice a week at Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.)

Rob Andrews Handler DPFL

Rob Andrews was born in York, England where he first discovered his love of dogs watching the shepherds herd their sheep with Border Collies. He moved to the United States with his parents as a child before returning to England where he attended college in Newcastle, obtaining his A-levels before deciding to move back to the US and obtain his associate's degree in computer programming. While in school he started working at a local pet store where his passion for animals was reignited.


He became a certified dog trainer and nutrition expert during his 3 years working at the store before deciding to branch out on his own doing in-home dog training.


In 2017 he decided that his true passion laid in saving the lives of shelter animals so he moved to Thomasville, GA, and started working as a kennel attendant at the local humane society. His passion and dedication for the animals were quickly recognized and in short order, he moved into the kennel manager position. While in this role Rob was instrumental in drastically increasing transport and lifesaving at his shelter. He also committed himself to find ways to increase the well being of the animals during their stay, one major way of doing this was playgroups which he started running regularly.


In 2019, Rob attended a DPFL seminar and instantly fell in love with the nonprofit, its people, and the goals they aim to achieve as an organization. He applied for a position at DPFL the next day and was brought onto the team in late 2019. Rob is currently a canine handler at Canine Center Florida and is growing his understanding of our furry friends every day.

Jessica Johnson Handler DPFL

Jessica was born and raised in the small town of Moultrie, GA, where she discovered her passion for animals as a child while routinely feeding and checking up on the many neighborhood strays. She recognized that this was what she wanted to dedicate her life to and at her earliest opportunity, in 2015, she began a work-study program while attending high school. She worked and volunteered at the local shelter discovering she had a natural ability for bonding with the dogs and identifying great matches for adopters.


After graduating high school in 2016, she immediately took a full-time position at another humane society in Thomasville, GA, where she greatly expanded her knowledge of behavior and enrichment for shelter animals. She worked closely with the shelter’s behavior consultant to develop a system for creating and maintaining behavior personality profiles, as well as increasing and varying the enrichment given to the animals on a daily basis. She then moved over to the intake/isolation area of the shelter where she learned how to provide medical care, initial assessments, and deal with the more difficult dogs, eventually becoming the intake manager.


While in this role, she helped implement new protocols for care and treatment of the animals and she also recognized the need for enrichment and love that a dog requires upon intake to create a positive association with a shelter.


In late 2019, she attended a Dogs Playing for Life seminar and was excited by the passion the team had for providing loving care for Every Dog, Every Day, and she quickly applied for a position. At the start of 2020, she joined the DPFL team in Florida and is expanding her knowledge and understanding of dog behavior on a daily basis.

Tori Overmiller Handler DPFL Canine Center

Tori was born and raised in Lakeland, Florida. She's always loved animals--she rode horses and has owned rabbits, chickens, birds, and dogs. When she was 17, she started volunteering at SPCA Florida, where she fell in love with the dogs, the work, and the people. Here, she was introduced to playgroups and the different behaviors the dogs presented. She was hired at SPCA Florida in April 2018, where Dogs Playing for Life board member Connie Johnson provided her an opportunity to learn and train with people that had just as much if not more passion to help and rehabilitate dogs to give them the second chance they deserved.

Tori originally joined the Dogs Playing for Life team in January 2019 as a handler at Canine Center Florida. 

Canine Center Florida Team

Kian Sadler Facilities Manager Canine Center FL

Kian has an automotive background and, before graduating trade school, he held many different jobs in the automotive field including Auto Technician, Tire Tech, and had a brief stint working with Italian enduro motorcycles in California.


After graduating from Lincoln Tech trade school in Denver, Colorado, he moved to Florida to work with Dogs Playing For Life in September of 2017; as Aimee's middle son, he has grown up around the shelter life. Throughout the years he has worked his way from Canine Care Attendant up to Facilities Manager, where he spends his days managing company property and vehicles, working alongside the kennel staff, and directing many Canine Center projects.  


Kian is currently attending flight school to receive his private pilot license in his free time with the dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot.  

Josh Dubrule Canine Care AttendantJosh Dubrule is originally from Panama City Beach, Florida, and later moved to central Florida. Josh has a background in maintenance and auto body repair and has been a member of the Dogs Playing for Life team since September 2019. At Canine Center Florida, Josh works as a canine care attendant and has also worked as a handler. He enjoys spending time with the dogs and learning something new every day.  

Alex Lopez Canine Care AttendantAlex was born and raised in Florida. She grew up on a farm so caring for livestock has always been her way of de-stressing. She acquired her first pet, an English Mastiff, at the age of two and has had dogs ever since. She is thrilled for the opportunity to work at Canine Center Florida. Caring for animals has always brought her joy and knowing that she's giving them the love they need before they find their forever homes makes her even happier. They might be part of our world but, to them, we are their entire world. 

Administrative Team

Christina Gorke Executive Assistant DPFL

Christina Gorke grew up in the military lifestyle while her father was active in the United States Air Force. Living overseas restricted her parents from fulfilling her biggest dream; a pet. Once the family returned to live in the U.S., she was granted her wish and gifted 2 goldfish. Fortunately, she was able to show her commitment to caring for her fish & the family grew to include a young dog they adopted from another military family with orders to travel overseas. Life couldn’t get much better now that there was a dog in the house. As the years continued the Gorke pack grew to include another dog, cats, and even a few hamsters.


After completing school in Pennsylvania Christina relocated to Southern California with her cat. Christina began volunteering with local shelters as an outlet to express her love of animals by caring for those without a home. She patiently waited to bring home a dog while she developed her career in medical administration. In 2009, with her husband Manny, they rescued a spunky black & white mutt found in the desert – Toto Jackson. Not long after they welcomed Kori, a sweet little blonde puppy.


With the support of her husband, Christina began volunteering as a foster with the Palm Springs Animal Shelter. They fostered multiple litters of kittens and provided hospice for a few gentle dogs. Lucy joined their pack after spending 3 months on Christina’s lap healing from a broken leg; total foster fail. In 2015 the shelter hosted Dogs Playing for Life. During the seminar, Aimee identified Elsa, a big blue beauty, as a Playgroup Rockstar. It wasn’t long until Elsa joined the Guerra pack. Inspired by the lifesaving innovation playgroups bring into the world of animal sheltering, Christina decided to use her administrative skills to feed her passion through her work. She joined the DPFL team as Executive Assistant in October of 2015. Since joining the team, Christina has welcomed her son, Lee, born in 2016. Lee shares in his parents’ passion for caring for their furry & fishy family members.

Heela Homman Administrative Coordinator DPFL with ReggieHeela was born and raised outside of Los Angeles, California. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, she found herself with some time on her hands and a desire to give back to the shelter where her beloved dog was found. She began volunteering at the local municipal shelter and quickly discovered a community of like-minded people and an aptitude for dog handling.


Animal welfare suited her skills and provided the sense of meaning she was seeking, so she shifted her focus away from jobs that offered little satisfaction. Instead, she continued volunteering at the shelter and with local rescue organizations and, in 2016, began working for the San Francisco SPCA. After moving across the country in 2017, Heela was lucky enough to land a position working for DPFL!


She loves helping shelters realize the power of playgroups and enjoys helping DPFL continue their impactful work. She is constantly inspired by the dedication of the shelters they serve and her own teammates in improving the lives of dogs and the landscape of animal welfare. She currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her cat, George, and old man AmStaff, Bernie.

Amanda Lambert Canine Wellbeing Coordinator with Clyde DPFL

Amanda Lambert has lived in Florida her whole life. Amanda worked at a restaurant for 12 years as a server and manager before changing careers. Eventually, she realized she was missing out on her passion of working with animals and applied for a job at a local veterinarian’s office. She started out as a receptionist and worked her way up to a technician. After 4 years in veterinary medicine, she needed a change of pace and applied to join Dogs Playing for Life. Amanda joined the team at the Canine Center Florida in 2019 and is now the Canine Wellbeing Coordinator, handling all medical care for the dogs onsite to keep them happy and healthy.

Laura Revier DPFL Shelter Support Coordinator

Lauren developed a deep love for dogs at a young age, but her formal introduction to animal welfare came when she joined the Dog TLC volunteer program at Longmont Humane Society in 2013. She was so drawn to the dogs, the people, and the work there that she applied for a job after four short months and began working as a Client Care Team Member, facilitating animal intakes and adoptions while still volunteering her time walking and learning to handle more challenging dogs.


From 2014 to 2016, Lauren held the position of Public Training Program Coordinator, overseeing the public dog training and Adoption Follow-Up programs, teaching public training classes, and one-on-one sessions, providing over-the-phone behavioral consultations and counseling for adopters and potential private training clients and running puppy playgroups. She left this position in 2016 but has continued to teach classes and conduct private and adoption follow-up sessions.


Upon leaving her full-time job at Longmont Humane Society, Lauren worked for four years at a criminal justice consulting firm where she performed project management and coordination while also conducting research, administering surveys, and writing reports and implementation guides. Lauren was thrilled to return to animal welfare, joining DPFL as its Shelter Support Coordinator in December 2019. She holds a master’s degree in Criminology, Law, and Society from George Mason University, and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband, Jeremy, and their three adopted dogs.

Board of Directors

Pic & Text

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